Sunday, July 17, 2011

Night, As Told by the Colors She BringsNight, As Told by the Colors She Brings

There are thousands of screaming football fans streaming past my house and clustered in the stadium outback. By "thousands" I mean probably a hundred people, and by "stadium" I mean the washed out dry patch of grass in the field behind me, whose goal posts are rusty, dump-salvaged pipes and whose sport is actually called "soccer." But it's all the same to me. I just got up from a hefty afternoon nap to groggily make lunch and putz around in my less-than-fashionable, in fact entirely embarassing by American standards, but-oh-so-comfy second-hand clothing. The game just ended but the cheering and whistle-blowing has not. I shuffle out to my front porch in my un-showered casual prowess eating cold green beans from the very pot in which they were steamed. Juice runs down my chin as a robust pod bursts in my mouth while players clad in flourescent orange jerseys and dirty tube socks return home for what I assume will be a consolation dinner. The orange team did not win, but at least they can take solace in knowing that their uniforms are so bright they could get a job at the airport landing planes. The sun is setting quickly on the baobab and palm tree-dotted horizon, with shades of fuscia, orange and yellow that I never knew existed before. In a few minutes the sun will be nothing more than a memory taken for granted, disappearing from here only to search for gratitude from lands on the other side of the world. In a few minutes the sun will be down and the darkness will come, but the excitement doesn't end there. The winning team just sped by, crammed into the back of someone's flatbed truck, chanting victoriously, and in the purple blur left behind, I realized that their red and blue striped outfits could not, in fact, land planes. In their hasty departure, the exhilarating sensory storybook of an always frenetic and supernatural Mozambican evening takes hold. Four dogs bark ferociously behind a flimsy bamboo gate as a gang of kids throw rocks, growl and provoke them. The local shopkeeper makes his routine evening trek from his house-presumably the one with the dogs-to his store in trademark short shorts and shortwave radio held up to his ear. The breeze is strong tonight, and the shade-bearing cashew, acacia and guava trees of my daytime life take on a conspiratorial edge this evening, trumped only by that outlying coconut tree, whose fronds stab mercilously at the now grey-blue sky. A cat creeps around my veranda, not knowing what to make of me and my glowing rectangle; tiny frogs the size of a quarter hop past the cat's apprehensive stance, landing in the weeds below my front step. Oh, feline friend, if you only knew, in your mistaken mind, that I fear you more than you should ever be worried about me. I can hear the beats of a drum corps, the participants sending off messages to ancestors and otherworldly spirits into the night air along with fire, smoke and lyrics to songs I'll never know. The drums are close, seemingly just beyond the path of the shopkeeper, and I happen to know that this cat, this furry familiar, is not who she appears to be. She's gone now, most likely to report no news-worthy information to her master about the unkempt white girl on her porch. Along with her exit, the drums have gone, too. Now the harmonious sound of an un-rehearsed hodge podge of wind instruments is doing the talking, and it's saying that some boys are ready to become men. Crammed into a house for thirty days, the boys spend their time engaging in what sounds like a chorous of people blowing into empty glass bottles, though sometimes I like to picture a heavenly meadow just over yonder in which centaurs frolick among narcissus flowers while playing the pan-flute. But alas, I know little of this ceremony and never will, because it's not for women to see nor is it for foreigners to judge. The mosquitoes are biting badly, and while I try to bat them away, I wind up only slapping my legs, arms and face in the process. I attempt to grasp them in mid-air, but now the sky is pitch black, the ceremony has ended, and while malaria seems eminent, the most frightening thing about tonight is the Cher song being blasted next door on repeat.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Was Always a Less Than Average Sprinter

My hair pokes out in every direction, like little baby Medusa snakes. Curls pop out from under the iron fist of bobby pins and weasel their way through my ponytail holder. Today, short bursts of hair stick straight out above my ears, and as I watch the ground for remnants of tree trunks that serve to trip me, or shattered beer bottles that prey on my feet, I can see that in my shadow that my head has turned into a distorted Mickey Mouse outline. Had I any silverscreen ambititions, I'd be pounding pavement in Hollywood, but instead I find myself here, trying to keep my balance on the sandy path as I briskly stride up to Julieta's house. Nearly two months ago, I was in her neighborhood visiting the patient of another activist. She was like a raisin, this patient, a once vibrant grape who'd shone with the light of her youth, but has since lost all strength and light, and I swear I saw it extinguished when I gazed into her deep almond eyes. We promised to get her to the hospital, to arrange transport from the Provincial Hospital's coordinator and get her a CD4 test, some ARVs and get her back to living again. What happened? Life carried on without her. It's easy to lose sight of those who have no voice. But then on Friday, I was told about another of our patients who had died. He was a feeble, gentle old man, who should not have been referred to as elderly at all. Indeed he was younger than anyone in the States who ever received AARP applications in the mail. But he fell through the cracks of an already overloaded and under-resourced system, and when we finally got him on medication again, it was too late. So today I find myself marching up to Julieta's house with the gusto of a veteran volunteer, who last year at this time wouldn't dare brave the bairro alone but now has the mark of someone who's had enough of a world where nothing is fair. Mama Julieta perches herself on the straw mat below me, breasts flailing about in her nightgown as she pounds grains of rice with the mortar and pestle. I remind her about this patient, the Pale Girl of whose state we lamented back in April and whose almond eyes haunted me after Friday's news. I ask her where the girl's activist is and what we can do to move this process along. I ask and I insist and I suggest and I huff and I puff and then I realize who I'm talking to. A hearty woman who has no qualms about screaming all morning at her philandering husband, yes, but also a woman who looks up at me with something so painfully familiar: the eyes of a light struggling to keep itself lit. I glanced at her mud house and her dwindling waist draped in a pre-colonial capulana. She has many burdens. "Nothing is ever as it seems, Sara, you know this and you've learned this time and again," I thought to myself. No one abandoned this girl. No one got lazy. Life carried on without her because it had to. I gathered my things and sheepishly said farewell while making my way out of the gate, where I found myself struggling to keep my balance on the sandy path. Dodging tree trunks and beer bottles, I was a tributary through the junk, my thoughts trickling past me, contemplative and helpless about the State of the World once again. But as I walked away, there was clapping, thunderous stomping, screaming, shrieking, laughter and whistling flooding out of the primary school and into my tiny stream. I kept walking; the circles of kids under shady mango trees performing the equivalents of "London Bridge" or the "Hokey Pokey" added to the sensational frenetic energy all around me. My droopy posture didn't become ameliorated nor my senses invigorated. "See? Life goes on with or without us, Sara." Oh. So I kept on walking, but slightly faster, because maybe if I picked up the pace a bit, I could catch up with Life.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My Sincerest Desculpas

My dear reader, it has been a long time, has it not? Since we last met, my life's pace has picked up speed like a swallow after a storm-zigging and zagging every which way, with the pressure of other birdies to meet, other birdies to feed. I am engrossed in all things Second Year-the classic symptoms like self-recrimination, anxiety, impatience, pragmatism, and acceptance that speak so truthfully to the Twenty-Seven Month Cycle spreadsheet given to us in training. Alas, my fear has come to reality: I am, indeed, so textbook. There is much to be done at work, like establishing partnerships with other NGOs, enhancing relations on the current one, visiting patients, writing reports...all of that exciting stuff that gets me home about 3:30, eating lunch around 5:00, cleaning up, visiting with neighbors and then finally resting around 8:00. Many a time, I awake to all the lights still on, door unlocked, music still blasting, several hours after I had layed down "just to close my eyes." My social life is a much different monster than it was this time last year. It's a lumbering, affable beast that hovers over my shoulder, persuading me to go dancing with expat friends until early morning hours, who forces me to sit on the veranda for entire mosquito-laden evenings telling tall tales of magical mangoes to the kids, who urges me to pass through towering sorghum to deliver food to a sick neighbor. What inconsequential solitary time I manage to scrape up is haunted by words in every form: fiction words from the stack of books waiting to be read, vocabulary words waiting to be studied, loving words waiting to be sent off in letters and the words waiting to be smithed into a blog entry possibly read by tens, if not twenties of people. Believe me, I beg you, my dear reader, I think of you every day. In the fleeting ideas of an expertly-crafted analogy for a next piece to the Facebook reminders to blog again, you are always on my mind. It's just that, well, you have to share that mind with other chores, memories and feelings, and I hope you can forgive me for that, especially since I just installed wi-fi in the rec room and reupholstered the couches in there. My dear reader, my dear mother, I wish I could offer you a new entry, but know that-like most of those in the past-two to three intros already exist and the meat of it isn't too far away.

Monday, February 14, 2011


For whatever reason several months ago, my landlord poured cement mix into a bucket. He did this four times, leaving to dry four short, stocky concrete stools in my communal sideyard. They remained there, scattered unevenly like birds on a telephone wire. Months went by with me passing them, absent-mindedly gazing upon them while washing dishes from my kitchen sink. Months went by without me paying them any mind until just the other day when I found myself engulfed in the stresses of packing, cleaning and errand-running in preparation for another trip to the south. Leaving my laptop at my sitemates' house, calling a taxi driver to confirm a 3:30AM pick-up, worrying about not getting the pick-up, figuring out how many shirts, bras, pairs of pants, underwear to pack, do I have a tiny squeeze bottle to put a bit of hairgel in?, wondering if Maputo is chilly enough to warrent shoes or a sweater, what if i come home and my house is infested with these roaches?, what if someone breaks in?, what if the bus breaks down tomorrow?, what will I make for dinner tonight?, how will I deliver my housekeys to my neighbor so early in the morning? I went to sweep out dirt from my suitcase, my incessant internal dialogue was kicked in the face and from here on out is a description of a treasured (and elusive) little nugget known as a "Magical Peace Corps Moment." Outside I heard the girls giggling and saw their parents-together-engrossed in some project whilst perched upon those scattered bucket seats. "Esta fazer o que!?" What are you doing, I asked, intrigued by their materialized concentration as much as I was grateful for the breaths of fresh nighttime air. Walking over, I saw Fatima's husband shaping a petite vase out of mud/clay and Fatima attempting to smooth out the cracks in the top of a bowl she'd just sculpted. In response, they said, "Servido!" a catch-all word meaning help yourself to whatever is being had. In this case it was a sticky pile of grey gooey slab and I just couldn't help myself. I perched myself in the soft glow of the porchlamp and started rolling my clay mass into a ball, while the baby became agitated at Fatima denying her the breast in favor of crafting her bowl. I chuckled at her finally giving in, getting wet clay all over the child, and at the older girls' desires to simply bake mud pies. For the first time in a year, I marveled at Fatima and her husband seemingly enjoying one another's company. Ten minutes later my eyes stung from low lighting, my back cramped from hunching and my podcast was blaring and almost completed in my room, but alas, my masterpiece was complete. A fish with bamboo score marks on the dorsal fin and an awkwardly shaped mouth was ready to hit the kiln...wherever that was. Obrigada, familia, I said, but I must be going. Before I could even say "screw you" to my To-Do List upon entering the indoors, a great chaos had begun outdoors. Within one crash of thunder a wall of water had suddenly started falling from the sky, dousing everything and everyone in its path. Parents, baby, little girls, freshly fashioned mud art-all nearly washed away in the whoosh of rain that prompted minor panic from those wishing to salvage items left outside and those screaming with sheer delight at the chest-pounding adreniline such an event brings about. As for me, I remained where I was, purely laughing for the first time that day.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Here, It's Where I Am.

Tonight I walked my two favorite little gals to their grandma's house not only because the lack of moonlight made it a spooky journey for a 5 and 10 year old, but because I hadn't seen their grandma, Zainaba (I call her Mama Zai Zai) since I'd been back. We sat outside on the straw mat, her facial features obscured by the bright light of the bare bulb overlooking the yard, made brighter by the contrast of its singular ray against the humid night air. Yes, my family is good and well, I said. Yes, my mom was very happy to have me home. Yes, I am tired after travelling for 3 days. In fact, I couldn't fall asleep until 3 o'clock this morning, I'd said. "I don't think it's the time difference, Sara. You can't stop thinking of your homeland," she told me. It's now 3:34 AM and after finishing up season 5 of LOST, reading some of my last-minute airport book purchase, tossing, and turning I made a final attempt at being lulled to sleep. Laying here in the shadow of a simple day puncuated by the bright hues of the Mozambican color palette, my favorite songstress strums away and yet all I can conjure is the need to be a part of her words by smithing some of my own. Much as I'd like to blame the jetlag, I must admit that Mama Zai Zai was right: I can't stop thinking about you, America, and how spectacular, overwhelming, demanding, easy, grandiose and frigid you are. You amaze me, friend, because if I want a bag of ruffled potato chips with french onion dip and an a nacho cheese chalupa with two soft tacos at 2:19 AM I can have it. You frighten me, America, because you move so quickly and to the beat of a drummer who only resides on your side of the world. You keep me im awe, America, because of your new-fangled smart phones and internet technologies that can videochat from NYC to LA whilst making you a 5 course meal. You sadden me, America, because you don't know your neighbors or your shopkeeper or maybe sometimes even your brother or your sister. You overwhelm me, America, what with your 600 TV channels, 29 kinds of coffeedrink, invasion of must-see viral videos and overload of stimuli. Yet you soften me, America, with your infinite different groups of people and your having something for everyone. And you make my heart weep, America, because without you I wouldn't be a segment of the beautiful greater whole that is my friends and family. But alas, now I find myself here again, in this hot, stinky town away from you, America, and it'll be awhile before we meet again. I awoke at 1:00 PM today, a time entirely unheardof to wake up to here, a time by which all locals have completed a 3 page list of chores and made dinner for the family, and a time chosen by me so that I may postpone the reality that I am here again, away from you. But today I woke up and there was a baby at my door. Soon to follow were more giggling and squealing goobers who couldnt wait any longer to say good morning. Soon after was my walk down the beach, to which I was greeted with handshakes and where-have-you-beens. The water was murky but warm like a bath, and I ordered the same thing off the restaurant's menu but my friends were there to spice it up. Lobsters were purchased afterwards and served, with fresh cashew fruit for dessert. A rastaman sporting Selaisse on his shirt grabbed my hand and genuinely thanked me for doing what I'm doing here. My Portuguese is a tad rusty but I can still hold my own in Makua. So, Mozambique, you give a little and you take a little. You can piss me off, Mozambique, but you're doing the best that you can. You're hot as hell, Mozambique- humidity as thick as a sheet. But I can breathe here, because even though you're not my real home, you march to the beat of a drummer on vacation.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Confectionary Torture, or, "Any Peace Corps Volunteer Who Has No Tale of a Salivating Food Dream Is a Big Fat Liar."

Once upon a time, there was a girl who always took Dairy Queen for granted. Now, she lives in Africa and would do just about anything for something involving chocolate, fudge or a brownie. The end.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Don't Need No Sixth Sense When These Five Are Treatin Me Just Fine

I watched the moonrise tonight. It was well before any of you in the Northern Hemisphere will have seen her. I know when to step out onto my veranda to watch-and it begins when the sun has descended beyond the hut-peppered horizon, leaving in its wake a pure, diluted orange that bleeds almost immediately into a watery sky blue. Tonight in our first encounter she took me by surprise, what with her sheer brillance and audacity, ascending the opposite horizon and overtaking any tree who served to obstruct her view. On my porch in the dark, before I'd turned on any lights, I wanted to be alone with the moon and her greeting of the night. I focused and I focused. I focused so hard that it was as if I was willing her to speak. Don't focus on the Tanzanian pop blasting a few doors down, I said to myself. Don't think about the fact that your butt aches on this chair. Don't listen to that ear-splitting child's scream next door. Don't worry about what you'll make for dinner tonight, I thought. This was the only quiet part of my day, and in a land in which I am a local celebrity by virtue of my skin color, the only spotlight I wanted was what the moon had been providing. I focused so hard that it was if the rest of the world had been reduced to sepia tones, flickering as a whole in and out of my peripheral vision and hers was the only color I saw. A light yellow, so vague that it was just a notch below white on the dial you'd use to alter hues on MS Paint. It was the identical twin of the non-threatening yellow of a baby chicken trailing behind its mother, if in fact this chick was...glowing. Indeed I wanted to make this conversation with my celestial friend last all evening, but as the pain in my behind continued in spite of re-positioning and the hollows of my stomach caused it to rumble and moan, I chose to say farewell, knowing that fortunately such circumstances of simple beauty happen at an increasing rate here. Everything just seems so much more vivid in Africa. I don't know if it's the sun seemingly being closer to Earth here or the heat that amplifies, but every one of my senses has gone into overdrive. It's as though my maker has opened the file Saraslife.jpg into photoshop and turned up the saturation to 90. Fine by me! The ocean is blinding in an incandescent field of diamonds as I pass by on the bus. On Sundays when I stand in it out by the jagged rocks housing white egrets, the sea-glass enriched sand below seems encased in a gelatinous mold tinted in very obvious turquoise up to the very top. The rooster that wakes me each dawn has feathers so reflective of indigo, rusted orange and deep forest green that it makes me almost not want to despise it. When I trek from neighborhood to neighborhood, the pungent scent of lives lived stacked on top of one another pervades my nose and it's only after I bypass the grease-burned streetfood and mushy bananas for the unsanitary smells of poverty and squalor that I wish the dial could be turned down a tad. But the hyper-saturation is incessant and mercilessly doesn't stop with my nose or eyes. The throbbing in my legs and the fuzziness in my mouth after a non-stop day of doing home visits is only overshadowed by the burning, raw and tight sensation felt on my reddened face and arms. All is washed away however, once taking a shower in what I deem each time as The Best Shower of My Life. Each day I walk home in a box of 200 fully-sharpened Crayola crayons where Cerulean glistens to my left and my feet are covered in Burnt Sienna. But it's all ok because tonight I'll have a chat with the moon.